Judy Joo, a Morgan Stanley saleswoman who quit business to become a chef and worked for Gordon Ramsay, will head the restaurant at the new London Playboy Club.
The club is scheduled to open in May or June at 14 Old Park Lane on the site of the Rendezvous Casino. The original London club was founded in 1966 at 45 Park Lane -- which the Dorchester Collection is turning into a hotel -- and closed in the 1980s.
Joo, 36, a Columbia engineering graduate, interned at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. She spent more than four years with Morgan Stanley in New York and San Francisco before swapping her derivatives-saleswoman’s hat for a chef’s toque. Does she have reservations about working alongside women dressed as bunnies?
“No, they are absolutely beautiful,” she said yesterday in an interview. “The whole thing about being a Playboy bunny is not just about being a pretty face with a rocking body: It’s about having a personality. These bunnies are going through many different types of tests, even math, to get a position, so they’re looking for a well-rounded individual who is smart.
“I’ve worked in very male-dominated environments and you always want to see women being treated fairly in the workplace. In terms of Playboy, if you’re going to attack that type of company, you might as well attack the whole advertising industry, the entire fashion industry, all of Hollywood. So I really don’t think that’s an issue that is so pertinent now.”
Joo’s first-floor venue will be called the Dining Room, and -- like the rest of the club -- will be for members only. She said the cuisine will reflect Playboy’s American origins, with a menu that includes steaks and burgers, though not rabbit. The first club was founded by Hugh Hefner in Chicago in 1960.
“I’m going to be executive chef and basically create it from the bottom up,” she said. “We’re going to stay very true to the original glamour and sophistication, hints of sexiness. This club is really being launched with all the 1960s glamour.”
Salvatore Calabrese, a mixologist previously responsible for bars at the Lanesborough and Salvatore at Fifty St. James’s, will open a ground-floor cocktail bar.
The new club will incorporate influences from the original. The 17,000 square-foot (1,580 square-meter) property spread over two floors is being designed by London-based Jestico + Whiles, whose projects have included Hakkasan and the Hempel Hotel.
Playboy says a bunny requires 10 attributes: sparkling personality; excellent manners and customer service; natural intelligence; elegance; graciousness; beauty; class; sophistication; professionalism; charm and allure, according to a press release from London Clubs International, which is opening the club with Playboy Enterprises Inc.
“A multiple skill-set is the key!” the release said. “As any England Rugby Union winger worth his salt requires the sprint times of a 100 meter athlete, the stamina of a marathon runner, the throw of a shot-putter and the lifting strength of a wrestler, so should a top Bunny encompass the poise of a debutante, the personality of a TV presenter, the brains of a mathematician and ‘the girl next door’ type of appeal.
“Newly recruited Playboy bunnies will have the honor of wearing the iconic uniform of their predecessors -- silk bodice, bow tie, wrist cuffs and of course bunny ears and fluffy tail.”
Just don’t underestimate that human representation of the Oryctolagus Cuniculus helping to relieve you of your bonus at the gaming tables: “Bunny Dealers need mental-arithmetic abilities comparable to a city broker,” the club said.
Joo, who was born to Korean parents in Summit, New Jersey, studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York. Her break came after when she went to eat at Ramsay’s flagship restaurant. The TV chef was there and invited Joo to come and work for him.
She was a pastry chef there for more than two years and then was a regular on TV last year in the U.K.’s “Iron Chef.” Joo lives in an apartment near Bond Street with her husband, David Allen of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
There were more than 30 Playboy Clubs around the world at the height of the chain’s success. The new London venue joins clubs in Las Vegas, Macao and Cancun, Mexico, with another one planned in South Beach, Miami.
“When we first opened the Playboy Club in London, it was one of my favorite times for the brand,” Hefner, Playboy founder, editor-in-chief and chief creative officer, said in a statement. “I look forward to our return to London.”
London Clubs International Ltd. is a London-based gambling company that was purchased in 2006 by a subsidiary of Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. Playboy Enterprises Inc. is a media and lifestyle company that markets the Playboy brand.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)